Some Maine patients will soon be able to consult with Boston-area medical specialists without leaving the state.

Patient Advocates, a Gray-based company that helps patients navigate the health care system, will begin offering a telemedicine program to connect patients here with experts in and around Boston. Although Maine hospitals and some doctor’s offices have offered telemedicine for years, Patient Advocates believes its program is the first in the state to allow patients to connect with an out-of-state specialist without first having to get approval from a doctor or go through a hospital.

“It’s more empowering the patient,” said Jim Ward, president of Patient Advocates.

Starting in January, Patient Advocates’ patients will be able to see a specialist in oncology, endocrinology, dermatology, urology and neurosurgery, consulting with that doctor over a high definition screen and telemedicine set up in the company’s office in Gray. Patient Advocates plans to add more specialties as the program gets going.

Doctors, many of them from the Tufts Medical Center in Boston, will have access to all patient records and test results, and will be available for initial consults, as well as second opinions, management of chronic conditions and consultations surrounding surgery. Doctors can decline to see a patient over the telemedicine system if they feel the patient would be better served with a traditional office visit. But Ward believes most patients will be able to benefit from the new system.  

“You’re going to get a very good second opinion from a top specialist at a leading, world-class medical facility, and you’re not going to have to leave the state. There’s convenience, there’s access and quality,” he said.

A telemedicine visit will be billed the same way as a traditional doctor’s visit. Maine law requires that private insurance companies pay for telemedicine visits as they do traditional office visits.

Patient Advocates will open the program first to its patients whose employers are self-insured, then to its patients whose employers contract with a health insurance company. Ultimately, it plans to open the telemedicine program to the general public.

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